A lovely concert last night in the steep-raked concert hall beneath the new wing of the Morgan Library: Fretwork performing most of Henry Purcell's Fantazias for viols, and two suites by his gifted predecessor by half a century, William Lawes. I had to go: a recording of Purcell's fantasias was the first CD I ever bought, in the music section at Blackwells in Oxford. It felt weirdly loopy and abstract to buy a CD - I only had cassette tapes in those days. But for some reason, I found I had to have a recording of this music, even if I couldn't listen to it. I must have heard these pieces performed, by London Baroque or even by Fretwork, founded about that time (behold the ghastly 80s cover art!).
Yes, that's right: I bought a CD before I had a CD player. What I didn't know until last night was that Purcell's Fantazias were the perfect music for such a gesture. In a pre-concert talk I learned that Purcell never heard the Fantazias performed, indeed couldn't have! The viol consort was a thing of the past by the time the young Purcell explored the history of English music in 1680. Indeed, there may have been no treble viols left in all of London! Knowing this made these mysteriously resonant pieces even more delectable. It was like being inside Purcell's head as he tried to get into Lawes' head - even as I was trying (with less luck) to get inside the head of Mark circa 1986.